The Sunflowers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

The happiest and the most awaited event of any couple--the birth of their child can swiftly turn into a situation that can have far-reaching repercussions and can change the entire course of life.

 

The sunflowers on the table were slowly losing their beauty.

A thin slice of golden sunlight fell on them and some of the petals, Sanjeev observed, were beginning to wither. Scraps of little children’s laughter floated in through the open window. It was a summer’s evening and the sun was on the verge of setting.

Sanjeev sat at his desk and was writing a short story. It was about a couple who find themselves at cross roads.  Slowly falling out of love a chasm of differences and misunderstandings was drawing them apart from each other.

As he wrote a sentence his gaze once again fell on the flowers. He recalled that when he had brought them home they were so bright and beautiful. He had gone to the market to do groceries and on his way back was arrested by their breathtaking beauty in a florist’s shop. The petals were a lively yellow with a dark granular brown centre. They seemed to have a life of their own. Mesmerized, he went in and bought them. They would certainly make Sharmila happy!

They did! As he walked into their tiny rented flat in North Calcutta he carefully hid them  and asked Sharmila to close her eyes.

Why?

There is a surprise for you!

 Really? As she closed her large black eyes he placed them in her hands and lightly kissed her on the cheek.

Oh Sanjeev!

Now open your eyes.

Oh my God! They are so lovely! Sharmila hugged the bouquet, smelled their fragrance and hummed a song by Tagore. She cut the ends of the stalk and put them in a glass vase on the side table besides their bed. The next day she brought it and placed it on table in the living room where they spent a great deal of time. They had their meals and Sanjeev did his work on it.

The flowers brought in freshness to their relationship. Every morning after waking up Sharmila, trudged slowly to see and smell them. She would pull up a chair and heave her heavy eight months pregnant body on it then gaze and take in their fragrance .Sometimes she would feel the dainty petals with her fingers.

Sanjeev’s admiration was more of a practical nature. Regularly, like c lock work precision, he would inspect them closely. If he detected that the water had become stale and murky he would carefully remove the flowers from the vase and pour in fresh water. Once on a whim he tried his hand at painting them. After struggling with pencils, eraser and water color the product that resulted was nothing to write home about. He smiled a sad little smile and placed the drawing in the pages of his diary.

Earlier, when Sanjeev returned from work he was never in his best mood. His work as a Divorce lawyer’s stenographer was demanding and drained him mentally. Observing loving relationships crumble at close quarters caused a great deal of sadness. After the Sunflowers came they helped him with his demeanour. Their untainted beauty and fragrance gladdened his heart a great deal.

Today, after observing that the beauty of the flowers was eroding a riot of questions ricocheted in his mind. Do we love things only for their beauty? Will he stop loving his wife when she became old and lost her charm and beauty? Is beauty akin to love? He was surprised at himself to detect that now that the sunflowers were waning and their color was fading it did not generate the same kind of feelings it did before.Why?

For a moment he thought of Sharmila. Young, tall and slender she took your breath away. He remembered the first time he saw her. It was also a summer’s day. He had gone to see her with his older brother. His parents had placed a matrimonial ad in the leading Bengali newspaper, Ananda Bazar Patrika.”An educated, tall, fair  and slim girl  needed for a post graduate boy  working as an  assistant  to a leading lawyer  drawing a  good salary with no demands”, the ad sated. Mentioning that there were “no demands” made him and his family look good and emancipated. This was the nineties and slowly people were opening their eyes to the evils of the practice of dowry.

After only a week of placing the ad they received hundreds of letters from families of prospective brides. Sanjeev’s mother and his sister in law combed through the letters and short listed the girls that met the criteria and created a large file. The remaining girls’ letters along with their photos were returned with a polite note.

Mother and sister in law showed him Sharmila’s photograph. He fell in love instantly. There was something in that photograph that fascinated him. Her angelic face, dark eyes, cascading hair and tall slim figure stirred his imagination and whetted his desire to see her in person.

It was decided that his older brother, Rajeev, would be going along with him to see the girl. A Wednesday evening in the month of May was chosen to fulfill this auspicious task. The day was not randomly chosen. Wednesday is considered a good day. Also it is the day that Rajeev, a bank employee, could come home a bit early. 7p.m was the time decided by the brothers to reach the prospective match’s house.

That particular Wednesday, Sanjeev, had butterflies in his stomach. He dressed semi-formally in dark blue bell bottom trousers made out of fine terry-cotton and a crisp starched white shirt. He wore dark leather shoes bought from Bata. He combed his dark wavy hair and applied a generous dose of Old Spice.

The brothers took the bus to the girl’s home. A middle-aged lady opened the door for them. She was the girl’s aunt. She was expecting them and greeted them cordially. They were escorted to a living room. She excused herself and went inside. After a few minutes, Sharmila’s mom and dad came in. Her mother was tall but emaciated. Her father, on the other hand, was well built and handsome.

Both of them were extremely polite and enquired about their welfare. They discussed the weather, then the local politics and lastly her father cautiously broached the topic of marriage. Sharmila was raised in a joint family environment and they had been sometimes over protective towards her. She was a modern girl who did not have unreasonable expectations. Sanjeev and his brother listened and nodded their heads politely. It was Sharmila’s mother who put a stop to her dad’s monologue. She said it was time for them to see the girl and make their own judgement. Yeah, yeah, her father observed. Please bring her in, he directed his wife.

About a minute later she returned along with Sharmila. Clad in a green silk saree and matching blouse she lit up the whole room with her effervescent presence. She greeted and sat down before them. There was a frank forthright air about her that made Sanjeev weak in the knees. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Her complexion was smooth and unblemished. Her dark hair was lustrous and well styled. She was slim and had an attractive figure.

Since that day when he first laid eyes on her three years had gone by. They were leading a married life where along with happiness there were traces of sadness too. She was still lovely and the only difference which Sanjeev noted was that her dark eyes had “acquired depth and mystery”. He did not want to add the word pain because he did not want to admit it. The fact, however, was that Sharmila’s eyes mirrored pain. Pain that was the outcome of a miscarriage in the second year of their marriage.

Now, after many painstaking treatments and rigorous regime of exercise Sharmila was pregnant again. COMLPLETE BED REST, the doctor wrote on the prescription. As this would not be possible with their present set up it was decided that they would hire a cook. So they employed an old widow. She would be charging about 500 rupees per month. This was quite a large amount for him. He received about twelve hundred rupees every month after all deductions. He made little sacrifices. He longer had the “Mishti Paan”, which he liked to have after his lunch at work. He no longer bought the “India Today” which he loved reading. He knew that all these would be compensated many times over when their bundle of joy, the little prince or princess would come in their lives.

 As far as possible Sharmila remained in bed. Every morning Sanjeev prepared tea after waking up and gently nudged his wife. She would wake up with a big smile, cling to him and say, “Darling you don’t have to go to work. Can’t you stay with me today please?” Sanjeev realized how lonely she felt all by herself in that little flat. He wished he could stay, speak to her, caress her and see her dark eyes brimming with anticipation. But life, he knew, was no picnic. He had to toil, had to work, especially if you belonged to a low middle class family. So reluctantly he would tear himself away from her.

Sanjeev had a playful streak in him. Often he would press his ears against Sharmila’s large protruding belly and listen to the heart beat of the kid. It felt so wonderful. It was like a little wonder. A life was growing inside. A heart was beating, a child was breathing, sleeping inside the mother’s womb. People who do not believe in God have not understood the process of inception of life.

 Once he brought “Jhal muri” for Sharmila. After having it she had a coughing spree. Maybe because of the little minced green chillies it contained. He panicked. Desperately he rushed to his neighbour, an elderly couple who lived by themselves. The wife whom he addressed as “Protima masi” came running. She gave Sharmila water and gently massaged her back. The coughing subsided. They all had a scare. Protima masi reprimanded them severely.

The months had passed gradually. With each passing month their excitement grew. This was now the eighth month. Yesterday, just before dawn Sharmila experienced severe labour pain. She began writhing and moaning. He called the doctor who advised him to take her to the hospital immediately. He asked Protima masi to be with her while he went out to get a taxi. Calcutta has many shortcomings and one of them is that it is extremely difficult to get a taxi during an emergency.

After waiting about 20 minutes he got one and that too after he had promised the driver an extra 300 rupees ontop of the actual fare. They rushed to the nursing home. Since it was after midnight there was less traffic on the roads. All through the ride he firmly gripped Sharmila’s hand. She was barely conscious. The light from the street lights fell on her face as the old yellow taxi, the symbol of the living city of Calcutta, zipped through its narrow winding lanes.

At the hospital a junior doctor checked her and informed him that this was the beginning of labour pain. They would keep her under observation. The main gynaecologist had been informed and he would be coming shortly to check on her. Sometimes it takes many hours after the initial pain to be ready for child birth, the bespectacled and handsome doctor informed Sanjeev. He further advised him to go back home.  They would move her to the delivery ward. No unauthorised person was allowed in there. When she was ready they would call him.

“Please take care of her”, Sanjeev requested the doctor.  “She  will be OK. Right doctor?” the 35 year old would be father asked. The white coated young man of medicine nodded and patted him on his shoulder. “She will be fine, don’t worry”, he said.

Sanjeev went back home. He decided not to go to work. The call from the hospital could come any moment. He had to be ready to rush right away. He looked at his HMT watch with the black dial. A very dear possession of his. It was a gift from his wife on their third anniversary. It was about 8 .am now. Was it a good time to call his boss? After debating for a few seconds he called him - the ever busy, Mr. Deb Mitra, one of the top most divorce lawyers of Calcutta. He updated him on the latest developments and sought permission for leave of absence for the day. After a short lecture on how important it was to be industrious in the legal profession he reluctantly agreed. “It is your wife that is going to deliver the baby, not you, but anyways since you have been with me for long I am making an exception”, he remarked plainly. “But make sure to come tomorrow. Kaveri Ghosh’s case is coming up in the supreme court next Monday”, the middle aged lawyer finally said and hung up.

A worm of anxiety began gnawing at his mind. Would Sharmila be OK? I hope everything turns out well. What if again she has a miscarriage? NO. She will not. He could not sit still. He paced up and down the small flat. He picked up the phone and dialled his mother’s number. The dull beep at the other end rang two times before he hung up. Mother might still be in bed. Her health was frail. No point in waking and stressing her out. Call brother? But he might be getting ready for work. He tried listening to the radio. But he became restless after a few short minutes and switched it off. He came and sat at his little table and brought out his worn out exercise book. This exercise book served many purposes. He kept track of his expenses, jotted important reminders for himself and also indulged in his hobby of writing poetry and short stories.

The Sunflowers on the table drew him and he sat down on the old dilapidated wooden chair and stared at them. There was something about them that soothed him. He selected a blank page in his exercise book and began writing. It was a story about a couple who loved each other deeply. Clouds of misunderstanding, doubt and jealousy cast an indelible shadow on their marriage when the wife steps out of the house to pursue a career. The couple who once could not live without each other now could not stand each other’s company. Their relationship was once lovely and full of fragrance just like these Sunflowers, when he brought them home the first day. And just like the Sunflowers now with petals falling and their aroma fading their love was on the way out------

Questions rioted in his brain. Why can’t beautiful things remain beautiful all along? Why do the Sunflowers have to lose their beauty? Why can’t a lovely young woman remain lovely and attractive all through her life? Why does her charm and beauty have to fade like these sunflowers? Why?

The stress and the lack of sleep caused him to doze off after a little while. When he woke up evening like a coy shy bride was approaching. Voices of parents rose above the din the little children were making outside. It was time to come home the adult voices advised. There was a wave of protest from the little ones. Stern warnings were being issued now. Slowly like little Christmas bulbs that die out the youthful chatter ceased. Sanjeev knew without looking at the clock that it would be around 6 o’clock .It was time for the school children to concentrate on their homework.

The phone rang suddenly. In his hurry to reach it he overturned the vase with the sunflowers. Some of them fell on the floor. One fell on the table. It was bent in the middle and the petals were peeling off. Water streamed down the table in  little rivulets.

Mr. Sen?

Yes.

This is Dr. Chatterjee calling. Well---could you come immediately to the hospital?

Is everything alright? Is something wrong? Is Sharmila alright? Please Doctor tell me the truth. Sanjeev pleaded on the phone. The little flat was spinning. Somehow the yellow heap of flowers on the floor caught his attention.

Well, see, Mr. Sen-----

Is Sharmila alive? What about the baby? Please don’t hide anything------. His voice was trembling. A gust of wind rose from somewhere and blew in through the little open window. The fallen flowers shook violently. A petal tore away. Sanjeev, strangely, made a mental note to pick them up and place them back in the vase.

I AM VERY SORRY------BUT WE COULD NOT SAVE MRS SEN OR THE BABY. I  AM SO SORRY

For a split second everything stopped. He did not know where he was. His mind froze. The receiver slipped from his hand. Like a robot he bent down and picked up the sunflowers from the floor. He filled the vase with water, put the flowers in and placed it on the table.

Something was welling in his heart. He did not know what it was. It was like a force of a volcano brewing inside. A pain so intense so sharp that it was proving difficult to breathe. Mechanically, he went back to the table. He knew what he had to do. He had to complete the story he was writing. The ending, however, would be different. The couple who were in the midst of turmoil and were on the verge of separation would now see new hope in their relationship. They would realize how much they really loved each other. The last line of the story read, “A thin slice of golden sunshine, bathed Ashok and Ranjana, as they held hands and walked out of the lawyers room and were silhouetted against the setting orange sun.”

He dressed in a trance and the last thing that caught his attention before he stepped out of the little flat was the sunflowers on the table, swaying slightly in the evening breeze.

 


Submitted: May 10, 2020

© Copyright 2021 suj. All rights reserved.

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